HIV rampant among local fishermen, study reveals

PETALING JAYA: There is a high prevalence of HIV cases among Malaysian fishermen, according to a study by Tenaganita in collaboration with the Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC) and the Centre of Excellence for Research in AIDS (Ceria) with the support of WWF-Malaysia.

According to the study, fishermen in the East Coast ports of Peninsular Malaysia are affected by HIV largely due to the use of drugs and unsafe sexual activities.

A sample of 127 fishermen from 6 different states - Johor, Pahang, Kelantan, Terengganu, Perak and Kedah – found that none of the respondents had work documents.

As a result of not having work contracts, respondents often move between boats, and have no solution to unfair dismissals or conflicts within one boat.

Liva Shreedaran, lead researcher of the study, said one of the fishermen interviewed said that he was once dependent on meth and had visited at least 50 sex workers.

"Ahmad, a 35-year-old fisherman from Kedah said that he stopped both because of his daughter. Another told us that when he was arrested by the police, test results showed him to be HIV positive. But he says he feels healthy and has not gone to the hospital.

"They have sex with sex workers, only sometimes using a condom and then they would go home and have unprotected sex with their wives. Several of them said they did not use condoms as they are able to spot disease-free women by their appearances," she said.

The report highlights many human rights violations among fishermen, including the recruitment of children.

It calls for fishing industry practices to be in line with the Asean human rights declaration.

"Given that they work without contracts and work in environments of coercion, they should be categorised as trafficked persons," she added

Tenaganita's director Aegile Fernandez said the authorities can take a page from the Sarawak government where fishermen are required to sign a work contract.